When we recently looked at why so many women mistype themselves as Enneagram Type Twos, we addressed the issue of societal norms.
In this piece, we look at the opposite side of the picture. If society expects women to be unassertive, nurturing, other-referencing, and self-sacrificing, what happens to women who's personality goes in the opposite direction?
In other words: What is it like to be a woman with an Enneagram Type Eight personality?
What you will learn
The Enneagram Type Eight Personality
Type Eight is called the Leader, the Challenger, and the Protector. Their habit of attention goes to power and power dynamics. Type Eights like to feel strong and powerful, and avoid feelings of vulnerability.
In patriarchal societies, these traits align neatly with the typical male role.
And this alignment is what can make it challenging to be a Type 8 woman.
To learn more about the experience of a female Type Eight, we talked with Hanna McElroy, founder of Magus Books, and Shannon Weatherly, a senior staff member of a biotechnology company.
Below we offer three challenges of being a Type Eight woman as experienced by these women themselves.
First Challenge: Your direct communication style is viewed as domineering.
Type Eights generally come across as confident and self-assured. Their communication style is direct, decisive, and clear. They leave little room for ambiguity when it comes to their opinions.
In men, these traits are viewed as signs of strong leadership skills and point to management potential. The workplace rewards men for being direct and self-assured.
In women, however, the exact same behavior is often seen as bossy and inflexible. If you are a Type Eight woman, chances are you’ve been told you are intimidating, even though your male counterparts who showed the same behavior were praised for their assertiveness.
Says Hanna McElroy, “In corporate America, if things aren’t going well, the same reaction is interpreted differently depending on if you are a man or a woman. As a man, if you put your foot down and raise your voice, you might be called a good leader who is getting the job done. If you are a woman, you’re a bitch.”
McElroy’s opinion is backed by research. Studies show that women who act assertively at work are viewed as being domineering, a more masculine trait. Because this violates the female stereotype of submission, women may face backlash by being viewed as bitchy or overly aggressive.
Second challenge: The softer skills are harder for you.
In patriarchal societies, men typically step into the role of protector, and women are often placed into the role of nurturer. There is societal expectation for women to focus on interpersonal relationships and the world of emotion. This expectation applies to both personal and professional environments.
Type Eights are well-known for their casual disregard of the emotional world, and they can forgo a focus on relationships in their drive to meet goals and get practical needs met.
In men, this behavior is acceptable and sometimes even rewarded.
But women Type Eights, including Shannon Weatherly, are often told they must change:
“In nearly every job I’ve ever had, I’ve been told I need to focus on others and how I interact with them. When this happens, I’m typically thinking I was doing great and getting a lot done, so it’s really defeating to hear I need to slow down and focus on other people when my male counterparts are not told the same thing.
I’m not allowed to show up as myself because of my gender. Often I am faced with the thought, ‘I’ve done it again… I’m too much.’ I feel like I’m not allowed to be the very things I was hired for: my strength and ability to get things done.” says Weatherly.
While the softer skills might be harder to come by, Type Eights readily associate with protective feelings and easily step into the role of protector. For Type Eight women this can offer an authentic way to enhance relationships and engage in the emotional world.
“Where I’ve been able to find an acceptable middle ground is to shift into the protector role. I’m being told not to focus as hard on getting things done and to shift instead to building relationships, but that doesn’t come easily to me. I am, however, naturally protective, so that’s been a bridge to soften my harder edges,” says Weatherly.
McElroy echoes a similar experience: “While the softer skills aren’t home base for me, being protective is. For example, my kids know that if they come to me, I’ll support them and help them with whatever the issue might be. It’s an authentic way I can show up emotionally.”
Third Challenge: It is hard for others to match your intensity.
Sometimes described as the soldiers of the Enneagram, Type Eights are intense. They work hard, play hard, have big energy and expansive goals. This big energy can be overwhelming, and if you are a Type Eight woman, you might have gotten the feedback you’ve got too much masculine, “yang” energy:
Says Weatherly, “When I got married at 26, I wanted someone who was going to surpass me. But I married his potential, and when I look back, I see how I emasculated him, and he had no chance at survival. I own that… I want a partner who equalizes me, and that’s hard to find.”
The Bright Side of Being a Type 8 Woman
While being a Type Eight in our society may be more challenging for women than it is for men, it isn’t all trials and tribulations. Both McElroy and Weatherly had plenty of positive things to say.
“A lot of things that hold other women back, I don’t have those. It is extremely easy for me to get started. I like that I’m bold and direct. I also like my protective element and that I’m someone others can trust. I’m loyal, and if I say I’m going to do something, you can count on that,” says McElroy.
And here is what Weatherly has to say:
“My drive is not about driving over anyone, it is about driving forward FOR people. I like that I’m someone who gets things done. I think when Type Eight women understand the power they hold, but also the damage that power can wield, I think we can make real progress.
I love the section in the book ‘The Road Back to You’ by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile that says, ‘Many female Eights go through life scratching their heads and thinking “Why do people experience and treat me this way?” Will the easily threatened and insecure please put a sock in their yaps and let these gifted women out of the penalty box, so they can get on with their lives without further interruption?’”
“Reading this statement is when I KNEW I was an Eight. I truly feel like I’ve lived in the penalty box when my male counterparts would be celebrated for the same behaviors. My hope is that with tools like the Enneagram, and societal progress that places a higher value on strong women, female Type Eights can lead the way to a brighter future.”
Questions for Reflection
To all the female Type Eights reading this: What are your stories? Have you experienced similar things? Do you feel like there is progress happening? And what do you like the most about being a Type Eight?
To everyone else: What have your experiences been with Type Eights, both men and women? Use this piece for reflection: How do you treat people with Type Eight, and have you treated women Type Eights differently than men in the past? Why?